It would be hard to overstate the contribution made by Sir Douglas Myers to making New Zealand what it is today. As a leader of the Business Roundtable, he was one of the most influential figures in the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s.

He ranks with Sir Ron Trotter, whom he succeeded as chairman of the Roundtable, and its executive director, Roger Kerr, as crucial voices in convincing New Zealand's business community to accept the drastic steps that had to be taken at that time to make the country financially solvent and internationally competitive.

The Roundtable's leadership was so effective that most New Zealanders came to believe business was always solidly behind the economic reforms. Not so. A protected economy is a very comfortable place for companies with an import licence or a established local market closed to foreign suppliers.

That is one of the reasons business confidence and stock markets in the United States have responded favourably to the election of Donald Trump. It is only economists who worry about the cost-plus pricing and wage inflation that protection permits, sending the economy and its economy into long-term decline until its creditors will no longer enable it to sustain a high living standard.


New Zealand was coming to that point by the 1980s. Economists within the Treasury and outside it were urging a National Government to gradually expose industries to international competition. Prime Minister Robert Muldoon largely resisted their advice, but he was not alone. The Manufacturers Federation of that time and most business sector lobbies were reluctant to face the risks of deregulation and open competition.

The Business Roundtable, consisting of chairmen and chief executives of the country's largest companies, was almost a secret society in those days, never engaging in political debate and hardly acknowledging its existence.

All of that changed in 1984 when Labour came to power amid a currency crisis that made the need for economic reform vividly clear. The Roundtable hired Kerr from the Treasury and Trotter was invited to chair an economic summit conference for the Labour Government.

From that point, the Roundtable became a strong and very public force for change. Kerr, Trotter, and his deputy and successor, Myers, made speeches and issued policy papers that steadfastly argued the case for ever more economic liberalisation, supporting the steps taken by successive governments and urging them to be even bolder.

By the time Myers came to the leadership, the popular stage of economic reform had passed. The country had experienced the pain and saw not much gain. Speaking up for further reform was not for the faint-hearted.

Myers did so knowing it would not make him popular. He had no personal need to do it. He had taken the brewing business inherited from his father and grandfather to greater heights, competing internationally from New Zealand. He did it because, as all who knew him can attest, he fiercely loved this country.

We should remember him well.